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Biol Cell. 1991;73(2-3):173-8.

Liquid crystal-type assembly of native cellulose-glucuronoxylans extracted from plant cell wall.

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Laboratoire des Biomembranes et Surfaces Cellulaires Végétales, ENS, Paris, France.


In numerous plant cell walls, the cellulose microfibrils are arranged in a helicoidal pattern which has been considered as an analog to a cholesteric order. Here, we report on the spontaneous helicoidal organization which occurs in acellular conditions from aqueous suspensions of cellulose. The cellulosic mucilage of mature seeds of quince (Cydonia oblonga L) was studied both in situ (pre-release mucilage) and after water extraction and in in vitro re-assembly (prolonged high speed ultracentrifugation, further progressive dehydration and embedding in LR White methacrylate or hydrosoluble melamine resin). The cellulosic component was characterized by the use of cellobiohydrolase (CBH1) bound to colloidal gold, and the glucuronic acid residues of the xylan matrix were characterized by the use of cationised gold. Inside the seeds, the pre-release mucilage is mostly helicoidal, with the occurrence of more or less ordered domains, which indicate a fluid organization relevant to an actual liquid crystal state. Cytochemical tests revealed the tight association between cellulose and glucuronoxylans, the latter constituting a charged coat around each microfibril. Following the hydration of the seed, a cellulosic suspension was extracted in which microfibrils were totally dispersed. The progressive dehydration of the suspension gave rise to concentrated viscous drops. Ultrastructural observations revealed the occurrence of multidomain organization, from non-ordered to cholesteric-like regions, revealing that the mucilage is at the same time crystalline and liquid. This constitutes the first demonstration that liquid crystal type assemblies can arise from crystalline and biological cellulose in aqueous suspension. It strengthens the hypothesis that a transient liquid crystal state must occur during the cellulose ordering. The possible morphogenetic role of the glucuronoxylans in the cholesteric organization of the cellulose is discussed.

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